I'd like to comment on the recent Boston Globe article on surgeons' outbursts and also on Maggie Mahar's post, Surgeons and Other Physicians: A Cultural Divide. Both seem to be painting surgeons as the ogres or bullies of the medical community. I'd like to think that I am neither. There are better examples of surgeons than the Alex Baldwin character in the movie Malice.
I agree it is not good form or good for the patient for these outbursts to occur, but generalizing to the point that most of your readers would think that 90% or more of surgeons behave this way is wrong. I have never thrown any equipment and rarely gotten angry to point of raising my voice or screaming in the OR. Each time I did, the nurse told me I was right.
I have witnessed some of the examples given in the article. Yes, those surgeons should be counseled and most likely should even be required to go to anger management classes. BUT maybe the reason for their anger should also be sought.
Was the faulty equipment putting the patient at risk? It is very frustrating to try three pair of scissors before you get one that will cut tissue or to have the electrocautery machine not work so the circulating nurse (bless her) has to go find one that does. Perhaps the hospital is at fault for not updating and replacing defective instruments and equipment.
Did the surgeon have to finally say "no more" to extraneous people entering the room? I have done that a few times. Someone comes in looking for a piece of equipment stored in the room you are working in (why wasn't it taken to the other room before my surgery got started?). Someone comes in to ask where such and such is (usually a new person who hasn't been properly oriented). My tolerance is such that I can take several (justified) interruptions in one case, but there is always a tipping point. Raising my voice to get the crew who is supposed to be helping me with my case refocused is my way of dealing with it, not throwing things. Still I would prefer to not have the issue.
Did the surgeon have to ask the nurse (or another crew person) to make their personal calls later? I have had to do this a few times, especially now that everyone has a cell phone. I try to be considerate when that person has a loved one in the hospital and are trying to get updates. Still, if they can't focus on their work (someone else's loved one) then maybe they should have taken the day off.
Those are just a few examples. I agree that we should never throw anything in the OR, but I do expect the equipment the hospital provides to work. I do expect the personnel they use to be professional and properly trained. I think of myself as part of the team, but that means we ALL have to put the patient first and work together.
Now let me give you some better examples of surgeons
- Dr. Eli Blumfield (played by Alan Arkin) from the movie The Doctor. The one that William Hurt's character picked to do his surgery. He was not only a great surgeon, but a good person.
- Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda) from MASH, don't recall ever seeing him throw anything in the OR. He mostly directed his anger at the policy makers, not the OR staff or patients.
- BJ Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) from MASH, a gentle soul who missed his wife and daughter. He didn't disrupt the OR with temper tantrums either.
- Sherman T Potter (Harry Morgan) from MASH, who kept Hawkeye and the others in line. A good surgeon and administrator.
- Dr Richard McCarthy (real-life orthopedic spine surgeon) who was featured in an episode of Extreme Surgery back in 2004. I was a medical student when I first meet him at Arkansas Children's Hospital. He is a very good surgeon and a gentle man. He is very highly regarded by all -- administration, nursing staff, colleagues, patients, etc. I tried to find the episode link so you could see him in action, but failed.
- Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN correspondent. Though I have never been in an OR with him, he doesn't seem as if he would be the type to throw tantrums.
- Dr Bruce Campbell, ENT and fellow blogger. I have not been in the OR with him either, but you get the sense of a someone who is respectful and civil when reading his posts.
- David A. Kappel, MD, a plastic surgeon in Wheeling, WV. I was influenced by him as a general surgery resident. Someone who is very good at what his does, treats his OR crew well, and is a wonderful human being.
- Dr Dale Morris who was a general surgeon here in Little Rock, AR for years. He has retired and is missed. He was/is a very kind and skilled surgeon who always treated everyone well.
Let me also say that I am blessed to have had several good nurses and OR scrubs over the years teach me how to work as a team. To name a few -- Jeannette Murphy, Vivian Mitchell, Joe Roe, Becky Bennett, and on and on.
You may also want to read this article from the WSJ and it's comments from last month on "Better Hospital Manners by Mandate".